105 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 1,025,520 sq. km.
Languages: Arabic, French
Head of state: Ba Mamadou known as M’Baré (interim), since April 2009
Four years of often bumpy switches between military and civilian government has left the country struggling to find political stability. Legislation on the press is the most favourable of the sub-region and today even though journalists in Nouakchott face complex problems, the situation is satisfactory.
The transition brought about by the 3 August 2005 coup radically altered the climate for the Mauritanian press. Censorship was lifted in the weeks following the fall of the government. Bureaucratic obstacles to newspaper publishing, used as a means of repression, were removed. Radio France International broadcasts resumed. Since then Mauritania successfully went through a number of tests - a constitutional referendum, municipal, legislative and presidential elections all of which were fair and open - but also had setbacks, at least on paper, and then underwent new problems with a coup in August 2008 and uncertainty approaching presidential elections in June 2009. Even though the situation remains fragile and much work needs to be done, press freedom is a reality in Mauritania.
For example, in 2007 in the midst of transition to democracy, Mauritania was the setting for a rare experience in Africa: balanced press coverage of all political forces during the campaign for presidential polling. Reporters Without Borders found during its monitoring of coverage of election news that Mauritania’s public media respected the rules of balanced coverage between the candidates. This was achieved thanks to the work of the High Authority for Press and Broadcasting (HAPA), the management and journalists on radio, television, the public daily and news agency.
Since the end of the absolute rule of Maaouiya Ould Taya, in 2005, the problems of the Mauritanian press have become both slighter and more complicated. During the dictatorship, Article 11 of the edict of 25 July 1991 on press freedom meant newspapers were regularly seized and journalists thrown into prison, as soon as they tackled “taboo” subjects. Newspapers flourished as a result of the new democratic legal framework, free to cover sensitive issues. But it remains true that the Mauritanian press is divided and scandal sheets, known as “Peshmergas”, have managed to get a foothold. Instead of providing credible and verified news, clans use them to settle scores through damaging accusations. Abdel Fettah Ould Abeidna, editor of the Arab-language daily al-Aqsa, a publication with often doubtful ethical standards, was sentenced to one year in prison and heavy fines for libelling businessman Mohamed Ould Bouamatou by claiming he was implicated in a huge cocaine smuggling case. He was pardoned after serving only four months in April 2009 by the head of the ruling junta, General Ould Abdel Aziz. Mauritanian journalists told Reporters Without Borders that the articles attacking Mohamed Ould Bouamatou had been ordered and paid for by a rival clan to undermine the businessman.
This case demonstrates that prison is not a satisfactory response and that the government should do all it can to help the press survive in a financially challenging environment.